Saturday, November 02, 2019

NCBJ Awards Edition

One of the pleasures of attending the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges is seeing good lawyers and judges being recognized for their contributions to the profession.   This year I attended three awards presentations.

The Commercial Law League of America presented the Lawrence P. King Award to Eric Brunstad, Jr.  Mr. Brunstad is a skilled advocate who has argued ten cases to the Supreme Court.  A consummate over-achiever, he has an LLM and a JSD from Yale Law School.  A JSM is the equivalent of a Ph.D. in Law.  He has taught at Yale Law School, NYU School of Law, Harvard Law School and the Georgetown University Law Center.  

In his acceptance speech, he acknowledged his debt to Lawrence King and many prior winners of the King Award, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren.   He said that he wanted to teach Secured Transactions at Yale and asked then-Prof. Warren what the best way to do that would be.   She said that the answer was to teach Secured Transactions at Harvard, which she helped him to do.   He said that it worked and that when he return to Yale, he got his own parking place and an assistant.

He said that "bankruptcy courts are problem solving courts and they need their equity powers."   He also said that appellate advocates should always be ready to answer the "why" question.

Judge Joan Feeney received the Inns of Court Bankruptcy Inn Alliance Distinguished Service Award. Until she retired in May, Feeney was the chief judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the First Circuit in Boston. She was a U.S. bankruptcy judge for the district of Massachusetts since 1992, serving as chief judge from 2002 to 2006.

She is vice president of the American College of Bankruptcy and a past president of NCBJ. “She cares about her colleagues, the lawyers who appear before her, her staff, and, most of all, the litigants who come before her,” says Robert J. Keach, Esquire, of Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer & Nelson PA in Portland, Maine. “She wants the honest debtors who come before her to get the relief they deserve and to have better futures.” Feeney was also a co-chair of the Massachusetts Bankruptcy Court’s pro bono committee.
Educating both specialists and consumers about bankruptcy is one of Feeney’s passions. She is co-author of the two-volume Bankruptcy Law Manual and served as business manager and associate editor of the American Bankruptcy Law Journal, the nation’s most frequently cited specialty law review. She also co-authored a book for consumers called The Road Out of Debt.
Feeney is also founder and co-chair of the M. Ellen Carpenter Financial Literacy Project, a joint initiative of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the District of Massachusetts and the Boston Bar Association. Designed to help prevent future bankruptcy filings by individuals, the initiative educates high school students about financial responsibility and money management. The final session takes place at the bankruptcy court.

Judge Harlan "Cooter" Hale received the Norton Judicial Excellence Award from the American Bankruptcy Institute.   After working for a large firm, he and several other young lawyers started their own firm.   In 2002, he was appointed to the bench for the Northern District of Texas.   One of his professional highlights was presiding over the Vitro Chapter 15 case.    He has authored 160 opinions and was cited by the Supreme Court in the Jevic case.   According to his colleague Judge Stacey Jernigan, he is first in the building and always available to consult with and handle emergencies.   He has been an elder of his church for 30 years, teaches bankruptcy law and helped found a non-profit which helps abused women.

Judge Hale has a great love for To Kill a Mockingbird.   He once wrote to Harper Lee and told her that Atticus Finch inspired his decision to become a lawyer.  To his surprise, Ms. Lee wrote back and told him how pleased she was to have impacted his life.  The framed letter hangs in his chambers.

Judge Hale was not able to attend the ceremony in person but gave videotaped remarks.   He recounted the case of Mr. Wiggins, an elderly old African American man who appeared on a motion to extend the automatic stay.  Mr. Wiggins testified that during his first case his wife passed away and he suffered a stroke.  He asked the judge to give him a second chance.  Judge Hale told him that he was in the right place to receive a second chance.  Judge Hale said that he often thinks about people like Mr. Wiggins when he thinks about his job as a bankruptcy judge.

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